Tucson’s Police Chief: Sessions’s Anti-Immigrant Policies Will Make Cities More Dangerous

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Public safety has always been our top priority.

The message from Washington is that cities need to refocus on “law and order.” Yet the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and Mr. Sessions’s reckless policies ignore a basic reality known by most good cops and prosecutors: If people are afraid of the police, if they fear they may become separated from their families or harshly interrogated based on their immigration status, they won’t report crimes or come forward as witnesses.

When crime victims and witnesses are unwilling to testify because they’re afraid an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent will be waiting to arrest them at the courtroom doors, real criminals go unpunished. It means drug dealers and people who commit domestic and sexual violence are free to exploit a voiceless class of victims; such criminals become a threat to us all.

It’s a simple formula. When crimes go unreported and unsolved, criminals are empowered.

Most law enforcement professionals agree that “sanctuary city” designations mean little from a policing standpoint. Almost all local law enforcement agencies, regardless of the “sanctuary” or “immigrant-welcoming” policies adopted by their jurisdictions, cooperate with federal authorities to go after drug cartels, human traffickers and transnational gangs.

Yet these designations can serve a legitimate purpose: They make clear that everyone in our community has a role in preventing and reducing crime. And they send a message to all members of the public, whether they have immigration documents or not, that the police are first and foremost there to protect them.

The Justice Department wants Americans to believe that recent upticks in violent crime are tied to undocumented immigrants or cities’ failure to “get tough on crime.” The facts don’t support this narrative. The reality is, cities with fewer crime-fighting resources often experience increases in crime. Crime also may increase in places where crime victims and witnesses are fearful of working with law enforcement.

The Justice Department’s rush to undermine crime-reduction initiatives put in place under past administrations is damaging police-community relationships and dismantling valuable public safety resources. It has effectively abandoned collaborative “reform agreements” to help police departments mend or improve relationships with the communities they serve.

The Justice Department also no longer prioritizes working with local jurisdictions to carry out the recommendations of the 21st Century Policing Task Force, a team of police executives, criminal justice experts and community leaders. And now, critical federal funding, like Justice Assistance Grants, is threatened to advance an anti-immigrant agenda.

Mr. Sessions talks a great deal about the need to preserve “local control,” yet he wants to dictate how local police agencies interact with their undocumented immigrant populations. The Trump administration seems to think it knows more about fighting crime than local police chiefs and sheriffs, and it is punishing cities that keep their officers focused on community needs rather than federal immigration enforcement.

Tucson has come too far to jeopardize reforms that strengthen relationships with the public we serve. Justice Department grants and other federal support funded through our taxes should not be tied to immigration policies.

Holding the needs of state and local law enforcement hostage to politics ultimately works against the interests of safety and justice.

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